After Ford's Theater

Major Henry Rathbone had it all.  Born in 1837 into polite society and inheriting a considerable fortune from his father, he was engaged to Clara Harris (she also happened to be his step-sister through the marriage of his mother to her father, Senator Ira Harris).  He had recently attained the rank of Major through honourable service in the Civil War, and was a friend to both President Lincoln and his wife.  And so it happened that he and his fiancee were invited to attend Ford's Theater with the Lincolns to see Our American Cousin.  Others had been invited as well but they were unable to attend for various reasons.   

On April 14, 1865, the Lincolns, Major Rathbone, and his fiancee were enjoying the play when John Wilkes Booth slipped into the Presidential Box and shot the President in the head with a pistol.  Major Rathbone struggled with Booth and was stabbed in the arm and head in the process.  Booth made a getaway despite breaking his leg and Rathbone was left seriously injured.  Clara Harris stayed with Mrs. Lincoln during the nine hours that it took for the President to die while Major Rathbone was treated for his own injuries.  None of them would ever be the same afterward.

Major Rathbone recovered physically and he and Clara would marry two years later but the survivor guilt that he would feel over his inability to prevent the assassination would mar both their lives... 

While they had three children and Rathbone was later promoted to Colonel, he became more emotionally unstable with time.   He became jealous of Clara's feelings for their children and was convinced that she would leave him.  They consulted numerous doctors in Europe but to no avail.  His increasing paranoia made Clara apprehensive but fear of the resulting scandal and the effect on their children made divorce impossible.  He was appointed U.S. Consul to Germany in 1882 and he and his family moved there.  On December 23, 1883, Rathbone shot Clara to death and attempted to murder their children.  He then stabbed himself but police arrived and took him into custody. 

Rathbone was almost incoherent and told the police that there were people hiding behind the pictures in the wall in his house.  He was later sent to an asylum for the insane in Hildesheim, Germany where he would spend the rest of his life.  According to reports, Rathbone would accuse other inmates of conspiring against him and that there were concealed places in the walls for spraying out gas. 

The children returned to the United States and were raised by Clara's younger brother and his family.  Their oldest son, Henry, would later become a United States Congressman. After his death in 1911, Rathbone was buried next to his wife in their joint grave in a municipal cemetery in Hanover, Germany.  They remained there until 1952 when the bodies were dug up and disposed of in accordance with German policy surrounding long unvisited graves.

 

           

Related Stories

  • The Benjamin Rush Prescription (Part 1)
  • The President and the Madman
  • The Case of Timothy Quill
 

 
disclaimer

The information provided on the PsyWeb.com is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of PsyWeb.com nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

PsyWeb Poll

Are you currently taking or have you ever been prescribed anti-depressants?
Yes
50%
No
50%
Total votes: 3979